3 ways to improve nutrition

Shawn Baker
Director, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
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Healthy food for a healthy world.

That’s the theme of the Chicago Council’s 2015 Global Food Security Symposium.

This year’s symposium comes at a crucial time, as world leaders prepare to finalize the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)—a framework to guide global health and development policies for the next generation. For those of us working at the nexus of agriculture, food security, and nutrition, the SDG discussions reflect how far evidence and thinking have progressed since 2000. Smallholder agriculture is now widely recognized for its role in poverty reduction and food security. And we have gone beyond talking about food just as a means of ending hunger, but as critical to nourishing growth and productivity for individuals and nations.

We’ve made great progress, but on nutrition, we need to go further.

Malnutrition is still an underlying cause of death for nearly half of all children who die before their fifth birthday. Healthy food does more than just fill stomachs—it nourishes growth by helping women and children break the cycle of poor health and poverty in their communities. Healthier food, healthier lives, healthier world. It makes sense.

At the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, we’ve committed a great deal to boosting agriculture production as a means of reducing poverty and hunger, and in recent years, we’ve focused on better leveraging agriculture to improve nutrition. We have seen what is possible when agriculture programs are designed with nutrition outcomes in mind—such as the development of the vitamin A-rich orange sweet potato, which is now widely available across Eastern and Southern Africa.

Now, we want to build on evidence to scale up success and create broader impact.

Next month, the Gates Foundation will introduce a new strategy with increased commitments to nutrition—with a vision of ensuring all women and children have the nutrition they need to live healthy, productive lives. Our strategy focuses on expanding access to proven nutrition solutions, such as breastfeeding, food fortification, and vitamin A supplementation, while investing in new tools and research to reach those we have not yet been able to reach.

We want to help address some of the most complex challenges to improving nutrition around the world, and recognize that solutions can come from many sectors, including our global food system.  Truth is, the current food system falls short of achieving our vision of nutrition for all. We need to transform the way food is produced, sold, and consumed to ensure that families everywhere have year-round access to nutritious food, whether it’s from their own fields or a local market.

This new food systems initiative, developed in collaboration with the foundation’s Agricultural Development team, will focus on a few key areas.

First, markets must work better for the poorest by ensuring food arriving at markets is safe, nutritious, and affordable. One component of this effort will be partnering with businesses so they can see the value in helping improve quality control, and incentivizing smallholder farmers to produce safer, more nutritious food for market.

Second, it is essential to drive demand for more nutritious food by increasing consumer knowledge.  We are putting women smallholders at the center of this initiative , given the critical role women play in food and nutrition—in fields, markets, and homes—as well as the barriers they often face concerning their decision-making power.

Finally, underpinning our food systems work and all elements of our new strategy is the importance of investing in the research, data systems, and evidence-based approaches that guide and inform our work.

We know that strengthening food systems alone is not the panacea to improving nutrition, but it is a critical pathway to achieving this goal. And as we strengthen our commitment to nutrition and increase our resolve to transform food systems, we urge donors, civil society, policymakers, businesses, and others across the globe to join us.

Because when more people have access to healthy food, we are one step closer to a healthier world for all people.

This article is published in collaboration with The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Publication does not imply endorsement of views by the World Economic Forum.

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Author: Shawn K. Baker is director of Nutrition at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Image: A tree laden with apples stands in an orchard in Kressbronn near Lindau at lake Bodensee, southern Germany. REUTERS/Michaela Rehle 

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